Sunday, August 10, 2008
Road Course Challenge Not Just For Drivers
It seems that the recent Sprint Cup Series races at Watkins Glen have had a number of great stories for the TV network broadcasting the race to tell.
The Saturday Nationwide Series first-time winner Marcos Ambrose was starting shotgun on the field. Kyle Petty had stepped aside to allow ESPN commentator Boris Said to take-over his ride. Sprint Cup qualifying was rained-out and Said was unable to race his way into the event. Up front, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be pacing the field. This was going to be a good one.
Allen Bestwick hosted the hour-long pre-race show which consisted of many more driver interviews than normal. The network did include the Saturday Nationwide Series race winner Marcos Ambrose and showed some good historic photos while giving a history of the race course.
The program's big story was on Kasey Kahne and his roller-coaster season. It featured ESPN commentator Ray Evernham. The network also focused on "wheel hop" and the gravel traps on this course. ESPN offered much of the same content SPEED has just reviewed on RaceDay.
Bestwick passed-off to Dr. Jerry Punch and things began to take shape as the race began. It was quite a surprise that no full course caution flags flew early in this event. The cars were simply racing and ESPN was working hard to keep-up with all the storylines.
Early in the race it was again a tough time on-the-air for Punch. The transition between the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races proved to be rough, as facts from Saturday trickled over into Sunday. There is always so much going-on in a road course TV broadcast that some things are bound to get lost in translation.
It may have been due to the Olympics, but ESPN inserted the lower-third sports ticker called The Bottom Line during the entire race telecast. In past races, viewers have gotten the 18/58 updates but enjoyed a clean screen for the event. The NASCAR on ESPN graphics package uses a continual upper-third crawl that is a different speed than The Bottom Line. It certainly makes it tough to watch two continually changing unrelated graphics crawls on the same screen at the same time for several hours.
This potentially exciting ESPN telecast lost some steam early when there were no accidents that slowed the action. It was tough for Punch to keep the excitement level even at a minimum as the cars raced. It was as though it was a practice session. Fans listening on the radio or DirecTV Hot Pass were enjoying an entirely different NASCAR experience.
Coming out of commercial break, Bestwick and his infield crew would sometimes take-over and reset the field. The music would blare and Bestwick would get things pumped-up with Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. Those two may have their detractors, but they worked hard to generate excitement every time they had the opportunity.
Following a critical restart with 25 laps to go, Punch spoke about all kinds of news stories involving driver changes and season point standings. What he did not do was echo the excitement of the infield crew and call the action on the racetrack. This "reporter" style is not working very well on these telecasts.
Popular NASCAR Now reporter and Petty pit crew member DJ Copp was wired with an HD camera and microphone to show viewers the opposite direction pit stops in this race. After Copp was introduced in the pre-race show, he was never heard from again. Punch never referenced his absence.
The ESPN pit reporters rallied to have a much better Sunday than Saturday. While Jamie Little is still making things a bit bigger than they sometimes are, they worked well to reset the field several times and really helped the TV viewers to understand who was where in this scramble of pit stops and tires.
With eight laps to go the big wreck stopped the race. ESPN cut to the accident and followed-up with replays from every angle. Jarrett and Petree spoke about everything that happened and tried to put things in perspective. This duo has really clicked in just the right way this season for ESPN as The Chase approaches.
The final restart was going to be key. ESPN's pictures followed the action until the end and the final lap was great. Good racing always has a nice effect on a telecast. The ESPN Director held the finish line shot and let the field race across the line.
Next week the ESPN crew moves to Michigan for the superspeedway action. The weekend at Watkins Glen turned-out to be a bit of a struggle, but the road course portion of the ESPN Sprint Cup Series is done. That might be a big relief to many on both sides of the TV screen.
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